Retegui shows that he is the man to lead Italy attack, but Zaniolo inclusion remains puzzling

Italy won both of their friendlies in the United States with Luciano Spalletti experimenting with tactics and Mateo Retegui firing in attack. However, Nicolo Zaniolo struggled to provide inspiration despite being given minutes.

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Italy's Mateo Retegui celebrates. [@Azzurri]

On the surface, the two friendlies that the Italy Men’s National Team played in the United States seemed meaningless, but it served as a great opportunity for Azzurri coach Luciano Spalletti to test out different players and tactics before the 2024 European Championship.

The Italians defeated Venezuela 2-1 on Thursday, and they also emerged victorious against Ecuador, beating the South American side 2-0 on Sunday. Spalletti moved away from the 4-3-3 formation to the 3-4-2-1, which suited a lot of the players in the squad.

There were a few positives to take from the latest international break with Mateo Retegui displaying his scoring prowess for his country, and a few new players showed potential as well. However, Aston Villa forward Nicolo Zaniolo was disappointing when he was on the pitch.

Italy have a settled striker in Retegui

Brought into the Italy squad by Spalletti’s predecessor Roberto Mancini, Retegui has been an impressive performer in attack since switching allegiance from Argentina to the Bel Paese.

His scoring record at club level for Genoa has not been particularly impressive, scoring just six goals in 22 Serie A matches so far, but injuries have halted him from reaching peak fitness. However, his predatory instincts have made the difference when representing the Azzurri, and he scored twice in the friendly against Venezuela. After the cameo against Ecuador, he now has four goals in six appearances for La Nazionale.

For years, Italy fans waited in anticipation for a prolific goalscorer with the likes of Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti continuously failing to replicate their club form. Retegui scored in his first two internationals and he impressed again during the last international break.

If the 24-year-old can maintain this form, then the Azzurri have found a man who has secured the centre-forward position, and Spalletti should include the Argentine-born striker in his Euro 2024 squad.

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Italy’s Mateo Retegui shoots. [@Azzurri_En]

Zaniolo inclusion was baffling

Although Nicolo Zaniolo is a mercurial talent, his form with Aston Villa in the Premier League does not warrant selection with the Italian national team, and his performances against Venezuela and Ecuador reflected this.

The 24-year-old came off the bench against the Venezuelans and replaced Andrea Cambiaso in the 74th minute. He completed two dribbles, but his passing accuracy was just 25%. Spalletti decided to start him against Ecuador, but the former AS Roma forward was largely ineffective, and struggled to develop an understanding with his teammates.

Zaniolo was replaced by Riccardo Orsolini after 76 minutes, and the Bologna winger went on to complete 100% of his passes as well as supply the assist for Nicolo Barella to score the second goal against the Ecuadorians.

He might have scored in his last appearance for Aston Villa before the international break, but Zaniolo needs to show consistency if he is to merit selection for Euro 2024.

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Italy players celebrate. [@Azzurri_En]

Italy newcomers impress in new formation

When Italy won Euro 2020 under Mancini and Napoli won the 2022/23 Serie A title under Spalletti, those teams played in a 4-3-3 formation. Fast forward to March 2024, Spalletti needed to change things.

To suit some of the players and how they played at club level, the Italian coach tested the 3-4-2-1 formation against Venezuela and Ecuador. Although the collective play could have been better, there were still some fine performances by individuals.

Juventus utility man Andrea Cambiaso earned his first two caps against Venezuela and Ecuador and assisted for the first Retegui goal. Torino wing-back Raoul Bellanova made his Italy debut against Ecuador, impressing with his runs on the right flank, and only an injury forced him off at half-time. Tottenham goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario also made his debut against the Ecuadorians, keeping a clean sheet.

With some of the big clubs like Inter and Juventus using back three formations, it made sense for Spalletti to test a three-man defence for Italy. Even if he does revert back to the 4-3-3 for Euro 2024, at least he can change his tactical set-up when needed.